RIAI Annual Conference 2018
Leadership | Innovation | Creativity

Reports by Clare Healy and Viktoria Hevesi

 

Day 1 – Clare Healy

Leadership | Innovation | Creativity’ was the theme for the RIAI Annual Conference 2018. David Browne, RIAI President, gave the opening address to delegates, involving a proposal for the relocation of Dublin Port and the repurposing of its land to create a high-density and sustainable ‘city within a city’. Eoghan Murphy, Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, also addressed the conference for the second year running and spoke of the key role that the newly-established Land Development Agency will play in addressing the current challenges posed by the housing sector and population growth.

Delegates were treated to an engaging range of both home-grown and international keynote speakers, and panel discussions across both days were genially chaired by Liam Tuite. Michael Maltzan began the conference’s first session on housing, providing insights from some of his completed projects, including the innovative Star Apartments for the Skid Row Housing Trust in Los Angeles, which also featured as part of the Venice Biennale. Michael’s talk was followed by a lively debate, which saw parallels being drawn between the housing challenges faced in Ireland and New Zealand by Tim Melville, as well as commenting on the technical and programmatic challenges experienced in modular housing construction. Sadie Morgan, Director of dRMM Architects, shared how architects can and should extend their influence into broader fields such as large-scale transport infrastructure and urban developments. In her role as Chair of the Independent Design Panel for High Speed Two, Sadie outlined that the panel acts as a ‘critical friend’ to the project and argued that good design must be at the heart of tomorrow’s infrastructure. In the Q&A session that followed, delegates observed that no such design panel, independent of the agencies procuring such infrastructural works, exists here in Ireland and calls were made for this to be addressed.

The afternoon commenced with the RIAI Members Forum, including a presentation by RIAI CEO, Kathryn Meghen, and contributions from the Chairs of the RIAI Committees. This was followed by a panel discussion on the Brexit Challenge. The first day of the conference concluded with an impressive talk from Phillip G. Bernstein, an architect, technologist and lecturer in Professional Practice at the Yale School of Architecture, who gave a presentation on ‘Why architecture needs a new business model’. Further expounded upon in his new book, Architecture – Design – Data: Practice Competency in the Era of Computation, Prof Bernstein discussed how the value proposition of architects is essentially broken and emphasised how this might be repaired through the utilisation of emerging technologies.

Clare Healy is an architect working with the HSE and a member of the Architecture Ireland editorial board.

 

Day 2 – Viktoria Hevesi

The second day of the conference saw a fantastic line-up of international and national speakers once again, debating and discussing a wide variety of thought-provoking topics. Launching day two of the conference, President David Browne reflected on the previous day by reinforcing the importance and value of the architect within the profession, highlighting the subject of housing, and mentioning the need to bridge the gaps between the schools of architecture and professional practice throughout the country. The need for collaboration and reclamation of the role of the architect was firmly addressed.

The first session invited Philip Vivian, Director of Bates Smart Architects, to discuss innovation through design competitions. Three main issues were examined: rapid urbanisation, climate change, and urban inequality. Innovative competition case study projects were also introduced, such as 25 King, located in Brisbane; a commercial high-rise project, notable for its use of engineered timber.

Following the presentation, a Q&A panel took to the stage where Ali Grehan, Dublin City Architect, discussed issues of social responsibility while Peter Carroll, A2 Architects, raised questions regarding ‘post-competition’ evaluations. Ciaran O’Connor, State Architect, spoke of ‘vision versus implementation’ and the different ways in which we can benefit from competitions through innovative technologies.

‘Urban and Climate Resilience’ was a highly debated theme throughout the day. Jennifer McElwain, Professor of Botany at Trinity College Dublin, presented attendees with a different perspective on climate change and its ultimate effects. Her research method of tracking floras’ responses to climate over the years demonstrated clearly the ongoing impact of rising carbon emissions. The session continued with Paul Jansen, Urban Economist at ARUP, speaking of city economics, planning future innovation districts, and creative regeneration schemes. Focusing on resilient cities, Mr Jansen highlighted a range of topics such as successful ecosystems, infrastructural facilities, and ways in which to balance local and international needs. An outstanding presentation of work from the RIAI Student Awards brought the morning session to an end.

The afternoon began with ‘The Procurement Challenge’ talk by Russell Curtis, RCKa / Project Compass, who once again raised the vital subject of the value of the architect, this time in relation to leadership within the public procurement process. The Q&A panel further concentrated on the subject of procurement reform that put the ‘architect back in the heart of projects’.

The final session reinforced the themes of leadership and creativity with Shelley McNamara presenting a journey through the extraordinary 16th Venice Architecture Biennale. The spirit of their Freespace manifesto was further explored through a number of the exhibition pavilions. Paying careful attention to the ‘earth as our client’ and speaking of the significance of optimism, the conference drew to a close with a real sense of hope and positivity for the future.

Viktoria Hevesi is an architecture student at the Dublin School of Architecture, DIT and was the winner of the Architecture Ireland Student Writing Prize 2017.